Tokyo 2020

A virus threat took Marc Leishman’s Olympic dream once, but not this time

Marc Leishman - Australia - Tokyo 2020
SAITAMA, JAPAN - JULY 27: Marc Leishman of Australia practices prior to the Men’s Individual Stroke Play event on Day 7 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the Kasumigaseki Country Club on July 27, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR/IGF)

It was the easiest difficult decision of Marc Leishman’s life.

He had a huge desire to represent Australia in the Olympics five years ago. Doing so would put his wife’s health at risk, however.

Audrey Leishman was still recovering from a bout of sepsis in 2015 that, according to doctors, gave her just a 5% chance of survival. Her immune system was still compromised over the next year-and-a-half. She was getting sick almost every other week.

So, with the Zika virus wreaking havoc in the lead up to Rio de Janeiro, Marc Leishman knew he couldn’t board a plane to Brazil in good conscience. He couldn’t risk bringing Zika -- or any foreign disease, for that matter -- home to his wife. Plus, Audrey desperately wanted to add a third child to join sons Harvey and Ollie once she was fit enough to do so.

“At that point I was sick all the time. I can’t even remember the amount of antibiotics I had to be on in that first year in particularly,” Audrey says. “It was hard because in that time I was still compromised and all I wanted was to try for another baby.

“But the doctors all said I needed to recover and had to stop being sick every other week. Then, the Olympics come up and it is the opportunity of a lifetime for Marc and you don’t ever want to take that away from your partner.

“So we talked it all through with each other and my doctors and unfortunately Marc pulling out became a decision that we just had to make.”

Leishman called it a “no-brainer” once all the medical advice was presented to him.

“It was an easy decision but still a tough one to make because you don’t want to give up any chance to represent your country,” Leishman said. “But at the end of the day there was just no way I was going to put Audrey at any further risk. Plus, we wanted another child one day and Zika was also a threat to that at the time.”

The six-time PGA TOUR winner could only shake his head when it became apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic would postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games. What were the odds a virus could end his Olympic dream twice?

But while the Games are a year behind – and will be done under health protocols and without spectators – the boy from Warrnambool will in fact become an Olympian, joining good friend Cameron Smith on the Australian team. The two paired to win this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans and finished second in the 2018 World Cup of Golf.

Leishman had the same childhood dream as many growing up in Australia – to don the green and gold and represent his country. Whether it was in cricket, karate, tiddlywinks or triathlons, didn’t matter.

Leishman was 9 years old when he watched Kieran Perkins become a national hero by winning gold in the 1,500-meter freestyle in the 1992 Barcelona Games. But as golf became the most obvious avenue for Leishman’s athletic talents, Leishman’s dreams of Olympic gold faded.

Representing his country was always top of mind, however. So, when golf returned to the Olympics, Leishman was excited at the prospect of becoming an Olympian. Now he will be one.

“I’m not getting any younger and while I’d like to think I can make the team again in 2024, and maybe even 2028, you never know how often this chance can come around,” Leishman, 37, says. “I’m excited about it. I’m pumped for the chance to play for my country.

“It would be huge to win a medal. I’ve grown up wanting to win the majors – I didn’t think of the Olympics past a very young age because I wasn’t good enough at anything else – but to be able to have the chance now is awesome.

“Golf in the Olympics is still new but it is already a very big deal. You could see how proud Justin Rose was and is of his gold medal and I’d feel the same way if I won one.”

Audrey and the Leishmans’ three kids – daughter Eva was born in July 2017 -- are really revved up to watch dad’s gold medal quest. They’ve ordered special Australian shirts and flags for the viewing parties they’ll have together.

Harvey, already an accomplished junior golfer, is 9 years old. Unlike his father, however, he won’t have his eye on the 1500-meter freestyle. He will be watching what happens at Kasumigaseki Country Club, where his father will pursue the prize he dreamed about at the same age.

This story was originally published on PGATOUR.COM.

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